New York legalises gay marriages
After days of contentious negotiations and last-minute reversals by two Republican senators, New York has become the sixth and largest state in the US to legalise gay marriage, breathing life into the national gay rights movement that had stalled over a nearly identical bill in the state two years ago.
Pending any court challenges, legal gay marriages can begin in New York by late July after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed his bill into law just before midnight last night.
At New York City's Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village pub that spawned the gay rights movement on a June night in 1969, Scott Redstone watched New York sign the historic same-sex marriage law with his partner of 29 years, and popped the question.
"I said, 'Will you marry me?' And he said, 'Of course!"'
Mr Redstone said he and Steven Knittweis walked home to pop open a bottle of champagne.
New York becomes the sixth state where gay couples can wed, doubling the number of Americans living in a state with legal gay marriage.
"That's certainly going to have a ripple effect across the nation," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "It's truly a historic night for love, our families, and democracy won."
Mr Cuomo said: "We made a powerful statement. This state is at its finest when it is a beacon of social justice."
The leading opponent, Democratic Senator Ruben Diaz, was given only a few minutes to state his case during the Senate debate.
"God, not Albany, settled the issue of marriage a long time ago," said Mr Diaz, who is also a minister in the New York City borough of the Bronx. "I'm sorry you are trying to take away my right to speak," he said. "Why are you ashamed of what I have to say?"
The Catholic Bishops of New York said the law alters "radically and forever humanity's historic understanding of marriage".
"We always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love," the bishops stated yesterday, "We worry that both marriage and the family will be undermined by this tragic presumption of government in passing this legislation that attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilisation."
Legal challenges of the law and political challenges aimed at the four Republicans who supported gay marriage in the 33-29 vote are expected. Republican senators endured several marathon sessions, combing through several standard but complex bills this week, before taking up the same-sex marriage bill yesterday.
New York, the nation's third most populous state, will join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington DC in allowing same-sex couples to wed.
For five months in 2008, gay marriage was legal in California, the biggest state in population, and 18,000 same-sex couples rushed to tie the knot there before voters overturned the state Supreme Court ruling that allowed the practice. The constitutionality of California's ban is now before a federal appeals court.